January 29, 2014

How to Get the Most from a Yoga Retreat. ~ Joe Choi

The driver started talking about transcendental meditation and Eastern philosophy as we drove past the rolling, snow-covered landscape and through some quaint New England towns.

I was lost—I don’t speak the language of spirituality well and consider myself a very practical person.

So normally I would’ve labeled the driver as a kooky weirdo and continued on my way. But I didn’t this time for two reasons:

  • I was in a car with him and I had no other choice unless I wanted to be stranded in the middle of nowhere out in the cold.
  • I decided to be curious.

This was almost a year ago now as I write this. I was on my way from the train station to Kripalu in Western Massachusetts. I was attending a weekend workshop held by James Altucher and his wife Claudia Azula Altucher—two other elephant journal writers.

I started yoga because I play golf. I like the physical benefits like increased flexibility and core strength, but never really got into the spiritual side of things. It just feels weird to me.

So sitting in the car and listening to the driver as we passed through Normal Rockwell’s hometown of Stockbridge, MA, I decided to dedicate the weekend to spirituality. Spirituality also happened to be one of the legs of James’s Daily Practice he was going to be teaching that weekend.

I’ve learned, maybe the hard way, that if there’s an area that I keep glancing over in life, for whatever reason, it’s usually the area that needs the most attention. I’ve read many self-help books that go over spirituality in some way, but I always skim through those sections. So my theme for the weekend was spirituality.

Of course, it’s easy to have a theme for a weekend, but how can we continue it afterwards?

Retreats and workshops can be expensive, and, if you’re like me, you walk away inspired but it fades away as time passes. You can call it hedonistic adaptation, busyness or whatever. I don’t know.

But I don’t go on many retreats or workshops so I like to make the most of the ones I do go to.

Here’s how to prepare, before, during and after a retreat to get the most out of it even as time goes on:

1. Choose one theme.

As I mentioned, my theme for the weekend was spirituality. But if you’re having trouble picking one, I’d boil down my criteria for choosing a theme to two criteria:

  • Is there an area of your life that you’re always glancing over for another day?
  • Is it a mindset shift that’ll make you to look at the world a little differently?

I think it’s important to pick one theme. It’s hard for me to remember too many things. I can read a book or take a class and I can’t remember many details. But I can usually remember a single overarching theme for everything. That one theme in many cases can be life changing.

2. Set a future reminder.

As part of a pre-departure packing list, send a reminder to yourself in the future for one year from the date. You can easily do it with any calendar software. You can even do multiple reminders. I like one surprise reminder in the distant future. One day, you’ll wake up and a reminder will pop up at you while you’re not expecting it.

The day I left for my retreat last year was one of those brief periods of time in life when just about everything was perfect. I was full of optimism and hope.

Now, I’m in almost the exact opposite situation. Last week, I was so desperate for work, and I have some expenses I have no idea how I’m going to pay for. I just want to curl up in a ball in the corner of the room and cover my ears and scream, Make it stop!

But with the reminder, I can look back and realize there are better days ahead. You might find the exact opposite where you were in a low place and now you’re happy. Or, you might be somewhere in between the extremes.

But looking back helps us move forward.

3. Write a letter to yourself.

A couple months after the retreat, I was sitting at my computer eating donuts, and worrying about money and getting new clients. Then, I received a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to me in what resembled my handwriting, and had no return address.

I opened it up and it was a list of bullet points and three of them popped out at me: Eat less junk food, worry less about money and getting new clients. It was a perfectly timed reminder.

I stopped worrying and took my dog for a walk. Walk the dog more was also an item on the list.

James and Claudia came up with the great idea of having everyone write out things they want to do less of after the retreat: less arguing, less junk food, less worrying, etc. Then, they had everyone fold up their list and put them in a self-addressed envelope. They collected them and promised they’d send them out sometime after the retreat as a reminder to see if you’ve followed through on them.

If your workshop leaders don’t do this, you can easily get a small group of people you’ve made friends with and organize something similar. It’s a fun surprise to get when you least expect it.

4. Get a book recommendation.

If you attend a workshop you may receive a book or two as a part of the package. Great! Hold onto it.

If you don’t, recall your theme for the weekend that you set before. Then, talk to the retreat hosts or other participants and try to get two book recommendations around that theme.

5. Read.

After the retreat is the perfect time to start reading the books I mentioned above. The inspiration from just getting back will be fresh. The book(s) will take you further into your theme that you set for the weekend. You might read something you forgot, you might look at something in a different way or you might internalize something on a deeper level.

No matter what, the chosen theme will stay with you for weeks after the retreat.

6. Remember: it’s all an adventure.

I fell flat on my face into my own puddle of sweat. My arms were burning and shaking and we were only 10 minutes into the class! When is downward-facing dog coming? Never!

I took an extra yoga class on my own at the retreat because it sounded fun. It was probably the most challenging class I’ve ever taken. I glanced around—and aside from a few people who looked like pros—it looked like most people were struggling.

I took a deep breath, smiled to myself and got right back into it. I was about to go on an adventure I’d never been on.

Today, a year later, I’m still on that adventure.

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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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